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A pulse check on enterprise cloud computing's net effect on IT jobs

As companies shift to enterprise cloud computing solutions the need for cloud-specific IT skills is growing. But what's the net effect on job count?

For CIO George Reed, having the right enterprise cloud computing skills in his data center is a matter of life and death. No, really.

Reed is the CIO of Seven Corners Inc., a privately held global travel insurance provider in Carmel, Ind. Each day any number of the company's 220,000 policy holders around the world could be calling on Seven Corners through its Web portals for help in a crisis. That's in addition to the 15,000 medical providers and eight insurance carriers who knock at the insurance provider's portal doors. All of them have to be able to securely access what they need, anytime from anywhere.

Types of skills/roles added to IT departments due to cloud computing

In a July 2012 CompTIA survey of 500 IT and business professionals, 32% of respondents reported restructuring IT around a cloud transition. Half of those companies reported new roles based on cloud computing.

Skills to build private clouds: 69% 
Departmental liaisons: 64% 
Integration specialists: 63% 
Cloud architect: 61% 
Compliance specialist: 44%

Source: CompTIA Third Annual Trends in Cloud Computing

"Whether they're just buying travel insurance or filing a medical claim or they're a provider trying to get paid or someone in deep trouble, they need to be able to reach us immediately," Reed said.

Leveraging cloud computing was Reed's answer to providing instant service. Seven Corners also found that this shift to cloud for mission critical applications -- from building the cloud-based applications its many customers and partners use, to managing security, to processing chargeback to business users -- required a reordering of IT skills.

"It has completely changed the way we have to staff and manage all this stuff," Reed said. "My guys who used to be just desktop jockeys, they're not desktop jockeys anymore. We have a lot less guys running around carrying broken hardware and more guys looking at screens and analyzing what's going on."

What the cloud hasn't done, however, is radically reduce Reed's IT headcount, which has remained steady over the past two years at about 30. The stable IT employment upends a common assumption about the adoption of enterprise cloud computing. In its infancy, IT professionals expressed fears that the cloud would become another mode of outsourcing jobs to cut staff and save money. The reality is turning out to be more complex.

In its Third Annual Trends in Cloud Computing survey, CompTIA found "reductions in IT headcount" to be one of the least popular reasons for cloud solution adoption (ranked No. 10 of 11 reasons). What's more, the survey showed more than 32% of the 500 IT and business professionals surveyed had restructured IT organizations during a cloud transition. Half of those companies created new roles based on cloud computing. (See sidebar.)

We have a lot less guys running around carrying broken hardware and more guys looking at screens and analyzing what's going on.

George Reed, CIO, Seven Corners Inc.

Rick Bauer, CompTIA director of research and development in skills certification, said the study shows that cloud computing is already causing a redefinition of traditional IT roles as more IT workers becoming more "cloud enabled."

A network administrator may now have the additional responsibility of managing applications in the cloud, Bauer explained. This will likely play out in other jobs as well. "The good foundations of effective enterprise architects will not change with respect to the cloud, but will simply take on new modalities, like security and data escrow," he said.

Another trend already underway is the migration of IT workers out of the IT organization and into the business. As for the fear that enterprise cloud computing will eliminate IT jobs?

"There will probably be no net job loss," said a confident Bauer. "What we are going to see is the business side get more IT savvy, and the IT side has to get a lot more business savvy.”

In the meantime, as IT departments are adopting cloud computing solutions, Bauer said they are quickly realizing these solutions are far from magic bullets, and it is to their benefit to cross-train existing staff or create new positions to manage and monitor these solutions.

That has proved true for Seven Corners' Reed, who is keen on retaining and training staff for cloud-enabling jobs. For example, his team built and recently launched a new cloud-based service platform called AXIS. Customer access portals are cloud-based applications that spin up on a user-by-user basis, creating a VMware View 5.1 window into Seven Corners' data center.

AXIS is now the domain of Reed's former "desktop jockeys." There used to be six of them, now there are three, but no jobs were lost. Half of the group was promoted to technology and business integration positions. Those who remained were each trained to become experts on how to manage a particular part of AXIS, then cross-trained each other on those skills.

Gearing up for the cloud computing journey ahead

Even at organizations where cloud adoption is minimal, its impact on staffing looms large. At Bank Leumi USA, a commercial and private bank based in New York City, IT staffing hasn't changed as a result of cloud use, but CIO Angelo Incorvaia sees that time coming. Cloud solutions currently account for about 5% of IT infrastructure and operations and are used primarily for human resource processing and contract management. Incorvaia hopes to move another 10% of business applications to the cloud soon. His staff members are currently being offered some training in cloud-related skills, and there is more to come.

"As we are in the very early stages of cloud, no new roles have been created," Incorvaia told SearchCIO via email. "However, career roadmaps are planned for 2013 that will include a track around cloud-based skills."

The key challenge for Bank Leumi USA in its cloud transitions, he added, will be security and data privacy. "This will be the area where strong skills will be required as we move deeper into the cloud," Incorvaia said.

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